Results for “organ donation”
81 found

The Price is Right

One of the most bizarre aspects of the organ shortage is that it is illegal to pay for cadaveric organs for use in transplants but it is legal to pay for cadavers.  That’s right, it’s illegal to pay people to donate their organs for the purpose of saving lives but medical schools can pay people to donate their bodies so that plastic surgeons can practice their nip and tuck.   

In a remarkable paper forthcoming in Cato’s Regulation and reported in the Washington Post, economists David Harrington and Edward Sayre take the argument one step further.  Medical schools regularly offer to pay funeral expenses for whole body donation.  So does the offer of payment deter altruistic donation and decrease the supply, as we have been told could occur if we were to compensate organ donors?  Of course not.  In fact, Harrington and Sayre note that the offer to pay funeral expenses is worth more in states where the funeral industry is heavily regulated and thus prices are high and, just as predicted in Econ 101, the supply of whole body donations is higher in those states.

It’s time to lift the price control on human organs, relieve the shortage and save lives.

How a proto-Economist Runs for Charity

Back in high school we had a run for charity, x laps around the track for so many dollars per lap.  I forget the charity but showing early signs of an economic mind, or perhaps a lazy body, I decided that it would be much more efficient to get the money and avoid the running (today, I would say avoid the rent seeking).   Thus, I solicited donations with the promise that I would run just one lap

Unsurprisingly, the other students were most displeased when I sauntered around the track finishing just as everyone else was beginning to work up a sweat.  More surprisingly, the charity organizers didn’t like my methods even though I raised a lot of money.

I had to go to graduate school in economics before I really began to understand why.  Eric Crampton, subbing for Bryan Caplan at EconLog, has the details.

By the way, its been said that crazy people go to graduate school in psychology in an effort to understand themselves.  Perhaps the socially obtuse go to graduate school in  economics for reasons that are somewhat similar.  See here on yours truly and also Greg Mankiw’s related comments.

Newspapers as non-profits?

A newspaper company, like a public broadcaster,
could be organized as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt corporation. It
could still sell papers and advertising, it could still develop new
Internet revenues, it would still pay market wages and salaries (or
maybe better), it could re-invest in improving its own staff and
facilities and operations, it just couldn’t make a profit. And it
wouldn’t pay taxes or dividends.

Here is more.  As newspaper ads move to the web, draining a key source of revenue, I see a few options:

1. Subscription finance with high prices and few ads.  A bit like the Financial Times.  Of course this means fewer newspapers and fewer newspaper pages.  On the plus side, fewer articles would continue on other, distant pages.

2. Sleazy tabloids.  But the competition with the Internet remains.

3. Some clever newspaper coup to take over Web processing of commercial information and leapfrog over ebay and Craigslist.

4. Web products evolve into customized, print-on-demand newspapers.  A some major newspapers survive by going the hybrid route, or by merging with their web competitors.  "What is a newspaper?" becomes a question of degree and we needn’t mourn the lack of pure newspapers.

5. Non-profits would take in revenue and also raise donations by selling access to social and political networks.  What would a date with Maureen Dowd go for? 

6. Extremely partisan, low-cost "rag" newspapers, akin to 19th century U.S. experience, and paid for by subscription.  Advertisers seek to offend nobody, and thus exert a centrist influence over newspaper content.

I place virtually no weight on option #3.  Comments are open.

How to choose a charity

MR reader Jeffrey Drucker writes:

I’ll be graduating college in just a few weeks and entering the real world.  That is I’ll be a salaried employee making all budgetary decisions for myself.  Aside from the necessary components of spending, saving, and repaying my college loans I’d like to set a portion of my earnings aside for charitable donation.  I’ve always thought that charity was a crucial element of any caring libertarian’s mindset.  Now that I will be able to spend my own money, I wondered if you could provide any insight into the economic considerations of charity.

Obviously, the decision to donate is based on personal considerations and evaluations of the relative merit of different organizations.  But economically is it more sensible to donate to a wide number of worthy causes or champion just one.  Should I focus on issues closer to home or those who are in the most need the world over?  How large a percentage of my income is it reasonable to donate, what issues should I consider (value of investment opportunities, lifetime consumption)?

Putting political and intellectual non-profits aside, here are some principles for purely charitable giving: 

1. Published information on budget ratios devoted to programs and fundraising expenses is not reliable.  Many charities manipulate the data.

2. Consider neglected but long-simmering problems; read my earlier analysis of whether you should focus on the crisis of the day.

3. Hardly anyone gives enough to charity and you won’t either.  Pick a cause or causes you will become addicted to.  Tell others you won’t back down from your cause, so that you will lose face if you do.

4. My preferred approach is pure cash transfers to rural Mexicans, vis-a-vis Western Union.  You don’t get the tax break but administrative expenses are very low.  Think of Western Union as a for-profit charity.

5. In-kind aid sounds inefficient to the economist, but the commitment may make you happier.  You are wasting most of your time anyway.

6. Don’t give money to beggars, the explanation is here.

The comments are open for other suggestions.  Analytical principles are especially welcome.

Paying for Kidneys

In a new paper, Gary Becker and graduate student Julio Elias estimate that for a price of $15,000 the shortage of kidneys could be eliminated from live donors.  The risk of death to a live donor is no more than 1 in a 1000.  Combine this with a value of life estimate of $3 million and add in some costs for time off work and so forth and you get the Becker/Elias figure of $15,000.

$15,000 seems too low to me but it probably would since my income is above average. As a robustness check, the authors note that in India a kidney can be had for about $1000 and US per capita income is about 15 times that in India so $15,000 looks to be in the right ballpark.  A similar calculation from Iran, where kidney sales are legal, is also consistent.  In anycase, even if they are off by a factor of 2 the point is well taken that for a modest sum many lives could be saved.  (In fact, dollars would be saved also because transplants are cheaper than dialysis.)

Becker and Elias have a useful response to (so-called) moral objections. Take any argument against kidney sales and apply it to the volunteer army.  Do kidney sales "commodify the body?"  Perhaps, but then the volunteer army commodifies life.  Would kidney sales eliminate altruistic donation?  As the example of Pat Tillman and many others demonstrate people still volunteer for the military for non-monetary reasons.  Are there difficulties for donors to calculate risks?  Again, perhaps, but these also apply to joining the military (and if so we could allow for a cooling-off period for both donating an organ or joining the military, as we do in some states for auto purchases).

If you are not in favor of the volunteer army then Becker and Elias don’t have any knock down arguments but I suspect that many people who are against kidney sales also favor the volunteer army and for these people Becker and Elias are posing a consistency challenge.

US Sperm Exports Explode; Canadians Upset

The US is a world leader in sperm exports primarily because sperm banks in the U.S. are run on a for-profit basis. As a result, US sperm is reckoned to be of high quality (we always knew this didn’t we?) particulary because the US version comes with a background on the vitals of the donor. Denmark also exports a lot of sperm because of high standards and demand for that blond, blue-eyed look.

Exports to Canada have increased in recent years because of a scandal involving poorly screened Canadian sperm. Canadians also import a lot of US eggs. The Canadian government, however, is apparently miffed as a new law is being readied that would forbid donations involving a paid donor. The law would not only make paid donation illegal in Canada it would make it illegal to use any paid-for sperm. Canadian couples seeking fertility options will suffer and who will benefit? I cannot think that this law is anything but spiteful and ridiculous. Is paying for sperm an original sin? As with other areas of Canadian medicine (see Tyler’s posts here and here), the rich will now travel to the United States for treatment.

Aside: The Canadian Health Official quoted here is ignorant or disengeneous when she says “We don’t buy or sell blood, or organs or tissues.” In fact, Canada also imports a lot of US blood plasma. Plasma takes longer to donate than straight blood and as a result altruistic donation rates are low and much of the world relies on paid-for US plasma for its life-saving properties. Similarly, donating eggs is not nearly as much fun as donating sperm so altruistic donation of Canadian eggs is unlikely to make-up for restrictions on the import of paid-for US eggs.

Thanks to Eric Crampton for the seminal email.